Straight Up: Paula Abdul talks about tour, ‘American Idol’ and that fall from the stage

After partying with the New Kids on the Block and Boys II Men on a 2017 tour, pop chart-topper Paula Abdul is hitting the road solo with some of her most personal work yet.

“I’m very grateful to be able to do this now and I’m having the time of my life, really,” she says during a recent interview. “You have to put in a tremendous amount of work but it’s so gratifying once you get on that stage and connect with people.”

The 56-year-old entertainer who’s scored an Emmy and Grammy for her achievements in dance and later became part of one of the largest television phenomenons spoke about her first headlining tour in more than 25 years, a long-undiscussed injury that prevented her from performing and the resiliency of being a star. 

Here’s Abdul, straight up.

Q: Congrats on hitting the road again, Paula. You last headlined here on your “Under My Spell” tour back in 1992. What’s it like being back onstage? 

A: It’s incredible. For a long time, I couldn’t do it because of being sidelined 28 years ago when I was on my “Spellbound” tour. I was on a seven-seater a plane that went down in flames. I didn’t have my seatbelt on, we plummeted and I hit my head. I kinda disappeared for over seven years because I was getting multiple spinal chord surgeries. And then I showed up on “American Idol.” For me,I wanted to get the chance to get on stage again and I’m really fortunate to be out there dancing and having a great time singing songs everyone grew up loving. 

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Q: What can audiences expect from “Straight Up Paula!”? 

A: I want to leave the audience laughing, smiling and get them up dancing. It’s just a feel-good show. And it’s wonderful for me to be able to reach old and new fans. The whole show from start to finish is a fun, fun show. I speak with the audience a lot. They get to learn a lot about me … It’s the most personal I’ve been, and that comes with experience and being in the business for a long time.

Q: In the promotion of this tour, you mentioned that you believed in your hit song “Straight Up” like a “child believes in Santa Claus.” How much does belief in yourself help propel you to be back?  

A: I think belief in yourself is vital because if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t achieve what you want. People can smell out when you’re not feeling confident with yourself. For me, I’ve been in this business for over 30 years now. I’ve been through so many iterations, weathered highs and lows. I was absent and now I’m coming back again. I’ve had to believe in myself. 

Q: On “Idol,” you gained a reputation for being the “nice judge.” Did you ever feel singled out for that?

A: I mean, I’m a nice person – I look at that as my kryptonite. But being kind is not weak – that’s not me, I’ve been this way my entire life. The thing is this — I was the only one out of the three [judges, along with Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson] who was vulnerable and brave enough to put myself out there as an artist. To criticize and knock someone down was a culture shock. (“Idol”) changed the trajectory of everyone’s life, mine included. I knew I was there to be a voice of reason for the artists because it’s not easy to do what they do. Sometimes you have good nights and sometimes you don’t. But at the end of the day, they’re up there being brave and displaying their talent. I always believe there’s a way to deliver constructive criticism by starting with something positive because the psyche of the performer doesn’t always hear the positive. It was an amazing experience mentoring talent and seeing them take flight to become superstars. 

Q: It’s not just “Idol” where you had an impact – with your experience as a choreographer, you ushered in a new era of dance for pop artists to display multiple talents. Do you feel like you’ve changed the game for a lot of people?

A: It’s pretty cool; I’m proud that I was a part of helping teach the MTV generation my love for dance like the the pioneers did for me. Showing tap dancing, teaching them about Gene Kelly, the MGM stars and respect of Bob Fosse as a choreographer, who were the people I looked up to. It was really incredible. And it’s not just in the musical acts but even for dancers and choreographers who’ve study my work to inspire their work. It’s a good feeling, it really is. The only strange thing I feel is that I didn’t have the Internet; I had to use my imagination. It’s crazy how so many people today don’t utilize the Internet for what I would have died to have at my fingertips. A big thing is looking at who is the most popular and most likes. But there’s such and underuse of studying the greats that came before. It’s funny that people don’t want to look back at the past. History does repeat itself and you borrow inspiration to make your own niche. 

Q: In regards to the Internet, there was a recent clip that circulated online of you falling offstage during a performance in Biloxi, Mississippi. I was impressed to see you recover so smoothly. But that’s what you have to do, right?

A: It’s like a metaphor – if you fall down, you have to get up. And I’ve made a great career of falling on my ass and getting up again. It’s sometimes more important how you get up and finish than how you entered. I could have broken a lot of bones [because] it was a deep fall. I was so lucky. Thank God some fans grabbed the left side of my body and my dancers on stage grabbed the right. It was an adrenaline overload because I was in a state of shock but I kept going. It didn’t kick in until later on that evening when I saw bruises on my legs. But the show goes on unless it can’t … You have to be consummate professional and do the best you can because people pay money to be entertained. And I’m grateful all fans were worried about me and count my blessings because it could have been horrific. It would have been the second night of performing and the tour would’ve been over!

Reach Mitchell at gamitchell@gannett.com or 602-444-8280. You can also interact with him on Twitter: @rettmitch.

Paula Abdul

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11. 

Where: Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, 5040 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Gila River Reservation.

Admission: $59-$372.

Details: 800-946-4452, wingilariver.com.

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